Just over an hour away from Madrid on the train, Valladolid is a great destination for a day trip from Madrid. It might not have the historic monuments of Segovia or Toledo (although there are some, more on that below) but it does boast something those two cities don’t – a top flight football team. Which makes it a perfect subject for this blog I suppose!
A Bit of History
Valladolid as a city has a reasonably important place in Spanish history. In the days before Madrid was established as the capital, Valladolid was one of the favoured Royal residences and King Felipe II was actually born in the city.
Ironically it was Felipe who struck the greatest blow to Valladolid’s relevance when he made Madrid his new capital in 1562. Aside from a brief return to Valladolid under his son Felipe III between 1600 and 1606, it has remained in the shadow of Madrid ever since.
The city also has connections to a number of important figures in Spanish history. Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid in 1506, Miguel de Cervantes lived there for a while and it was the birthplace of Tomás de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. I bet you didn’t expect that!
Touring the City
Fortunately, the city centre is quite small and therefore perfect for a quick morning of exploring.
I took a route which initially took me past the Cervantes house museum and Plaza de España (where I would later catch my bus to the stadium) and around the University district where the cathedral is also located.
Then it was on to the old royal palace, where the aforementioned Felipe II was born and a number of churches before finishing up the tour in Plaza Mayor. It’s a very nice space, unfortunately undergoing some restoration work at the time of my visit and here was where I saw my first big gathering of Sevilla fans, having spotted small groups throughout the morning.
After a short break for lunch and a coffee, I headed back to Plaza de España and got on one of the buses heading towards the Estadio José Zorilla.
The Estadio José Zorilla
Real Valladolid’s home ground was built for the 1982 World Cup and was actually the only completely new build that was undertaken for the tournament. The old Estadio José Zorilla was becoming increasingly outdated and the club and local council took the opportunity of the World Cup to campaign for Valladolid to be a host city and get a new stadium built for them.
Opened in February of 1982, it played host to three group games, one of which was the infamous France v Kuwait game where the president of the Kuwaiti FA ordered his players off the pitch after they had mistakenly stopped due to a whistle from the crowd and France played on and scored. Makes modern day VAR controversy look sensible in comparison.
The stadium itself is a short 10-15 minute bus ride from the city centre and then a short walk from the stop beside the Auditorio Miguel Delibes. There’s a bar on site, which when I arrived was already packed out with Sevilla fans and the obligatory merchandise stalls. I had enough time to have a look around the stadium before heading inside, taking a quick look at the Anexo, the pitches where the B team and youth teams play their games and the club shop, with its huge range of purple merchandise.
Then it was time to head inside. The first thing that strikes you is just how purple the stadium is. It’s not that common a colour in the world of football, but there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a stadium filled with purple seats.
The stadium is locally known as the Estadio de pulmonia (Pneumonia Stadium) because of its reputation for being extremely cold. I imagine this was more of a problem in the past when the stadium used to be partially open to the wind and its isolated location can’t have helped too much. On this occasion it was bearable, but I wouldn’t like to try it on a cold December evening.
I was sitting low in one of the corners, which still gave an excellent view around the ground with the added benefit of being close to the Fondo Norte – the singing section for home fans. It’s worth saying now, the atmosphere here was great – despite the conditions and somewhat uninspiring football from the home side, the fans never let up.
— Real Valladolid C.F. (@realvalladolid) September 3, 2018
Upon their promotion to La Liga last summer, Real Valladolid were the subject of a takeover. Nothing unusual there.
Except that the man fronting the takeover was legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo.
No one is really sure what benefits Ronaldo gets from his involvement in Valladolid. It’s unlikely to be a major money-spinner for him and it’s not a club he had any real connection with as a player.
One thing it definitely has done is boost the club’s international profile. More people than ever before are aware of the club because of his involvement and this will only help the club grow.
In the context of Spain, Valladolid are something of a sleeping giant. Castilla y Léon in a huge region and they are by some distance its biggest club. There is a huge amount of potential there, with a passionate fan base and the potential to expand the stadium in the future. If they can establish themselves in La Liga it would definitely be a good thing for Spanish football.
The first clear opening of the game went to Sevilla, with Gabriel Mercado hitting the bar with a thumping header, but the early stages mostly belonged to the hosts, who after their heartbreaking late defeat at Leganés the previous Thursday, desperately needed a result to keep them away from the relegation zone.
They looked to capitalise on an unusually nervous looking Sevilla defence, goalkeeper Juan Soriano unconvincingly punched away a cross into the box but then did well to parry the shot which came in from Oscar Plano. Then followed an outbreak of pinball in the box as Valladolid hit the post and basically missed an open goal before the referee eventually stopped play for offside.
Chances continued to come, another deep cross picked out Keko, but he could only connect with his knee and the ball bobbled harmlessly wide. Sergi Guardiola then had a chance, weaving around a couple of defenders, but eventually finding himself too crowded out to really trouble Soriano.
Anatomy of a Disallowed Goal
It looked like Sevilla had taken the lead – very much against the run of play – when Wissam Ben-Yedder headed home Pablo Sarabia’s corner. Sevilla celebrated, it was a crucial goal in their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But as the teams got ready to kick off again, the referee headed over to the sideline – he’d been alerted to a potential infringement by the VAR team. After watching the replays himself several times, he agreed that the off the ball incident between Franco Vazquez and Oscar Plano, where a shove from the Sevilla attacker saw his opponent collapse theatrically, was reason enough to not award the goal.
Now, I’m in favour of VAR in theory. Fewer clear and obvious mistakes can only be a good thing. But in over-analysing things like this, we run the risk of ruining the game. I don’t honestly think that this would have been given as a foul at the other end, where it would have led to a penalty, so why penalise the attacking team?
It Never Rains But It Pours
Just a few minutes before the second half began the grey clouds which had been gathering ominously overhead all afternoon finally opened and we were treated to some rain which lasted well beyond the end of the game. It was something of a novelty, the end of winter and beginning of spring in Spain having been much drier than normal, but soon became quite annoying as the struggle to see the action over other people’s umbrellas while not hitting any of the people around me with mine became a major distraction.
Minutes into the second half, Ben Yedder really should have got his name on the scoresheet. Sarabia’s cross picked hi out, the goal was at his mercy, but he contrived to shin the ball off target.
Valladolid continued to toil, getting the ball in good positions but never really threatening the Sevilla goal aside from one excellent opportunity for ex-Recreativo man Waldo, who brought an excellent save out of Juan Soriano. In contrast, the visitors looked dangerous, especially after the introduction of teenage winger Bryan Gil and later midfielder Roque Mesa, both of whom would have huge roles to play in how the game turned out.
First up was Mesa who had only been on the pitch for about four minutes when he slalomed through a couple of ineffectual tackles from Valladolid defenders and drilled the ball low and hard into the bottom corner. Masip had no chance and suddenly Sevilla could sense victory was in their grasp.
They made sure in injury time, Quincy Promes set Gil free on the left and with space to run into, he had all the time in the world to look up and lay the bal across for Munir to tap in. 2-0 and the three points were definitely heading back to the Andalucían capital, much to the delight of their huge contingent of travelling fans.
After the game, Sevilla coach Joaquin Capparros shocked everyone by announcing he had chronic leukaemia and wouldn’t be seeking further treatment. He would also continue in his role as interim coach until the end of the season. Messages of support flooded in from all around the La Liga community and I can only echo those.
Thankfully getting away from the ground wasn’t difficult. Outside the stadium a number of buses were lined up ready to take supporters back to the city, so it was just a matter of finding one which a) wasn’t full and b) was going back to the area around Plaza Mayor/Plaza Zorilla to make my journey back to the train station as straightforward as possible.
Once back in the city centre, I found a very different city to the one I had enjoyed walking around earlier on. The streets were deserted and I spent most of the walk dodging the puddles which had formed.
Assuming you catch it on a good day (or good part of a day like I did) Valladolid is a really nice city to visit – well worth a day trip from Madrid if you’ve already done the most common ones, like Toldeo, Segovia and Cuenca. I definitely want to go back and take a more relaxed look around some of the sites.
As for the football club, Valladolid have everything in place to be an established La Liga club – except the team on the pitch. Ronaldo could do with coming down to a few training sessions and teaching his players how to finish. Their lack of goals could be their undoing in a relegation battle which at time of writing, looks set to go down to the wire.